Monday, January 3, 2011

Waking Up on the Appalachian Trail

     I roll over to my side, half asleep, eyes still closed, but I can feel that the morning sunlight has made its way to my face, nudging me, calling me to get out of my sleeping bag. A new day is here, and as I slowly begin to open my eyes and enjoy the first stretch , twist, and yawn of the early morning, I can feel the lingering effects of the day before. The arches and pads of my feet ache, my calves are tight, and my knee is slightly swollen. I turn my head to the side , looking at Laura asleep next to me. I know she's felt that first ray of sunlight as well, but I also know how she likes to deny its call for five more minutes. I ask her in a soft voice, "How'd you sleep?" and she answers, eyes remaining closed, "Still sleeping." Her reply always causes me to grin.
     This morning, like every other morning on the trail, will be consumed with packing. As a fellow hiker once told me, "It doesn't matter if you're hiking 20 miles or 2 miles, it still takes the same amount of time to load your pack." I begin with my sleeping bag, mashing it into its proper stuff sack and putting it into its place on the bottom of the pack. Next in are my spare clothes: a fleece, pair of shorts, socks, and a shirt. I leave my rain gear out for mow; always better to keep it easily accessible. I grab any food I might want during the hike and place it in the top compartment where it's readily available. The rest goes back into the food bag and sits on top of the spare clothing, next to the cookware, stove, and fuel. The tarp and hammock complete the ensemble. I pull the drawcord tight and snap down the top compartment. While making a quick scan to ensure nothing is left behind, I strap my sleeping pad and sandals to the outside of my pack. As I lift it up with both hands and swing it quickly to the side, all in the same motion I maneuver my right arm through the corresponding shoulder strap. My left arms shortly follows suite.
     Everything I have is on my back. Another day on the trail is unfolding. As I shift my weight and lean forward to adjust the waist belt, I think about the day ahead, about what I will do, about what I will accomplish. Some may think not much. After all, there are a number of things I will NOT be doing today. I will not go to work. I will earn no money. Today, I won't do anything that has any economic value what-so-ever. I will not drive a car or read a news paper. Today there will be no phone calls, text messages, or emails. I won't even manage to flush a toilet. So then, what will I do today? Well, I will walk. I will walk up one side of a mountain and walk down the other side, only to go up and back down the mountain after that. Today I will struggle. I will sweat and become short of breath. I will trip over roots and stumble over rocks and somehow find a way to form a new blister on the only unblistered part of my foot. Today I will think. Today I will let my mind wander. Today I will pray prayers of thanksgiving: for people, for blessings, and for this place that I find myself getting to experience right now. Today I will foster connections: with my wife, with myself, with creation, and with my creator. Today I will walk. Today I will live out a dream.
     As I make the final adjustments to my pack, I look over to Laura and sarcastically ask, "So, you wanna go on a walk today?" The question has become part of the morning's routine, one of us asking the other every day for the past 500 miles. She makes eye contact with me, nonchalantly shrugs her shoulders, and says "Sure. Where should we walk to?" "I don't know, how 'bout north," I respond as we both begin to smile. She agrees, and so the day begins. Today we walk and think and sweat and stumble. Today we connect. Today we live out our dream.

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